My colleagues were atwitter at the news (and sadly, not just on Twitter). The strangest response was the sigh of relief that Tom and Katie’s daughter, Suri, had been “saved” from Scientology. “Katie will raise her Catholic,” was the satisfied murmur doing the rounds, with the iron-hard assurance of women convinced they knew the intentions of someone they’d never met half a world away.
This relief struck me as odd. I was raised by Catholics, (which is a lot like being raised by wolves, but without as much nurturing), and I wondered if Suri wasn’t out of the frying pan and into the fire. I’m not convinced that either of those faiths is necessarily better than the other. Sure, one is a bizarre cult with some really weird ideas that hang onto its membership through a combination of guilt, threats and blackmail, but the other was made up from scratch by a science-fiction author less than a century ago. One way or another, Suri is going to be expected to swallow some odd ideas during her religious education.
So when the Ed suggested I write a satirical column about the various gullible flocks on our own dear continent who can be hypnotised into eating grass or swallowing “petrol” to demonstrate their faith, I had two immediate questions: 1) How is that any different from saddling a newborn with original sin or insisting “thetans” are real? And 2) Good grief, Ed, are you trying to turn me into the poster-boy for sneering white atheist cultural chauvinism in one fell swoop? It’s hard enough being a Progressive Person of Paler Pigment* these days (because from the outside, you look just like the unreconstructed racist troglodytes who may even share your surname, so you have to find ways to let your fellow citizens know you’re one of the good ones without going on about it all the time. I favour Madiba shirts and learning all the complicated handshakes).
If I started wringing laughs out of somebody else’s sincerely held beliefs, all it would take is one disapproving, out-of-context tweet, and I’d be consigned to the “cultural imperialist” list along with… oh, I’m not giving them any extra publicity; you know who they are: that old British fart who fled here because it’s easier to pretend to be an aristocrat in the colonies, then got fired for being utterly contemptuous of African cultures, that Afrikaans bloke who sings Die Stem as if he were blowing up a power station, and his “intellectual” mate, who sued a puppet. “Godsless” heathen that I am, I try to keep it simple. “If it harms none, do what you will” and “Treat others as you would have them treat you” more or less cover all moral eventualities between them. I’ve known many Catholics, and a number of Scientologists.
Most, of both faiths, have been ordinary, loving people trying to care for their families, raise their kids, and make the world a safer, happier place (and a tiny minority, of both faiths, have been batshit-crazy fanatics, but that’s kind of the point). If swallowing whatever the pastor tells you to while sacrificing your money gives your life meaning and makes you feel exhilarated, who am I to stand in your way? Heck, in the US, some sects religiously handle poisonous snakes, because the Bible says they can. Of course, we generally only hear about them when one of the congregation dies from a snakebite, so if this column does have a lesson, here endeth it. [Footnote] * “White Liberal” just sounds so 20th-Century…